By TENAJH SWEETING
Tribune Sports Reporter
The University of Mississippi Ole Miss Rebels pulled off a decisive 60-49 win over the University of Michigan Wolverines in the championship round of the third Bad Boy Mowers Battle 4 Atlantis women’s tournament yesterday at the Imperial Arena, Paradise Island.
The win not only marked their first championship victory in the tourney’s history but it also made Grand Bahamian coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin the first Bahamian coach to accomplish this feat at the three-day event.
Placing third in the tournament were the University of Arizona Wildcats, who fell 56-47 to the Ole Miss Rebels in the semifinals, after they toppled the South Dakota Coyotes 61-52 in the third place game yesterday.
Coach Yo was elated as she basked in the historic moment in Bahamian and team history with her players.
“It means a lot and when I saw the conch shell I almost broke down and cried. The conch shell on the trophy was elite. Usually, I let the trophies stay at work but this one I may try to sneak to the house for at least a week. It feels great to win. I am happy but we had three straight games in a row so I am really exhausted but inside I am screaming with joy,” the Grand Bahama native said.
In the first two games of the Battle 4 Atlantis women’s tournament, the Ole Miss Rebels got off to a slow start and rebounded to win in the second half against their opponents. However, from the opening tip to the final buzzer of the championship game versus the Wolverines, the Rebels played with a chip on their shoulders and led the entire game.
The former national team coach said the Ole Miss Rebels’ strategy coming into yesterday’s game against the 4-1 Wolverines was to get off to a hot start. “It was key. I have a lot of respect for Kim. She is a veteran in coaching, she is someone I look up to so I have been watching for a long time. I knew they would be prepared and well coached. We wanted to win the first four minutes of the game. We wanted to send a message that we were here to win a championship as well and I thought our team did that,” she said.
Coach Yo’s team got the advantage 10-6 to start the game and pushed the lead to 16-11 to close out the first period of play.
Despite a strong showing by the team in the opening quarter, starting point guard Kirsten “KK” Deans went down with an apparent knee injury at the 2:29 mark and tried to return to action but only managed to play less than six minutes in the ball game. The status of her injury remains unknown at this time.
Although she was a notable loss for the 5-1 team, backup rookie point guard Marija Avlijas provided a bright spot for the team and embodied the next woman up mentality in her efforts on the court. She mailed in a team-high 11 points, along with three assists, two steals and shot 5-for-10 for 50 per cent in the championship win.
Madison Scott, who has been a standout performer for the Lady Rebels all tournament long, dropped 10 points to pair with seven boards, and one block shot.
Scott was the engine of the team’s stingy defence and energy on offence in the tournament which earned her the Battle 4 Atlantis women’s MVP award.
The newly-named MVP wanted to improve on her consistency in the women’s tournament and was happy to pull off the win.
“It feels really good. We have been working really hard so to win the title we are seeing our hard work pay off. We saw our point guard KK Deans go down and that was really hard for us but it was the next man up mentality. We wanted to win for her and we knew that we have been working so hard to continue to improve each and every day,”
“This game we showed strength and resilience. Marija, our freshman point guard, came in and worked her butt off. On the bench everybody gave everything they had so I am so proud,” the MVP said.
Defence was the name of the game for the Lady Rebels, especially headed into the second half of basketball. The team collectively held the Wolverines to 15-for-62 shooting for 24 per cent from the field and at the halftime mark they shot 14.8 per cent through two quarters.
For the no.24 ranked Lady Rebels, it was their first time leading going into the halftime break (27-19) in the tournament and the rest was history.
The Southeastern Conference (SEC) National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) D1 team’s swarming defence forced 16 turnovers in the final round which translated to nine fast-break points.
The third period of play saw the Lady Rebels outscore the Wolverines 21-11 in the quarter.
Meanwhile, in the fourth quarter they advanced to their biggest lead of the game, 20, at the 6:42 mark to cement their Battle 4 Atlantis championship win.
The Grand Bahama native talked about why she was so passionate about getting this year’s trophy.
“Last year when we lost it was in the tournament but we ended up losing a game. The junkanoo music started playing and I couldn’t even dance. That is why I made it a point to go dance once I heard the junkanoo music today because I love junkanoo music. The fact that I couldn’t dance last year has kept me up at night,” she said.
She acknowledged the team’s grit and determination against some of the top NCAA D1 women’s teams in the third edition of the tournament. She added that this win is a step in the right direction for the Ole Miss Rebels women’s basketball programme.
“I hope we can play even better basketball but this is a step in the right direction, that’s why we wanted to come play in this tournament. A lot of people that have situations like mine shy away from competition to protect rankings and reputation, that has never been my take. I wanted to come to a tournament like this to play quality opponents. All of them are between 25-30 in the net, that’s tournament worthy teams. This is definitely a step in the right direction and hopefully we can just use this and continue to improve,” coach Yo said.
As for the Wolverines, guard Laila Phelia carried the team with a game-high 21 points. Although she shot 11-for-12 at the charity stripe, the Lady Rebels’ defensive effort bothered her from the field where she shot 4-for-18.
The Michigan women’s team got the edge on the Rebels in second chance points 21 to 9. However, the Rebels dominated them inside the paint 36 to 14.
Additionally, their bench players outscored the Wolverines 27 to 10 in the victory.
The Battle 4 Atlantis tournament ended yesterday for the women’s segment and picks back up on Wednesday at the Imperial Arena for the men’s basketball teams.